Last week, the man behind such films as "The Rock" and the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, Jerry Bruckheimer, showed a group of journalists the trailer to his latest offering, "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time." Following the screening, Bruckheimer and "Prince of Persia" creator Jordan Mechner talked about the making of the film and how one goes about turning a game into a film.
"The most important thing is the story," said producer Jerry Bruckheimer to the gathered crowd. "So what we do is, we write a script, try to get it as dramatic as possible; the character arcs and romance and action and everything else. Then you budget it." While films like "Prince of Persia" are bursting with visual effects, the producer said that "the first duty is to the script," which dictates just how much money is available for these crowd-pleasing effects. "Sometimes, you have to shrink things, but it doesn't come down to 'rewinds.' The 'rewinds' are expensive, but, dramatically, we feel that we got the right amount of 'rewinds' into the movie and get an audience to believe in it and go with it," he declared.
The "rewind" Bruckheimer referred to is the digital effect that simulates Prince Dastan's movement backward in time when using the Dagger of Time in the film. "What they did first was an animatic, or a storyboard," Bruckheimer explained. "We went in from there and arrived at a process that we liked, and we kept embellishing that process that you see now. We just kept adding layers to it. At first, things did not go through [Dastan's] body. He would just come out and overlook the scene," he said of an earlier version of the effect. "We started adding layers, and actually started using sand. So the sand swirls around his body. It's constantly embellishing something that you really like."
Layering is one way Bruckheimer hopes to break the curse of the video game movie. "We took our time developing it," he said. "It took a number of years to develop it with a number of different writers until we got to a place where we felt we really had a good screenplay. And that's the key; it's telling a good story."
"I haven't seen a lot of the other video game films," he admitted. "But maybe that's the key to our success and our company's: telling good stories. Create interesting characters, create the romance, [and] create the action. Have you care about the characters and put them in very dramatic situations. It's really a biblical story. It's about a boy, kind of a street urchin, who gets taken off the streets and gets to be a prince of Persia and he gets into the competition of his two brothers who want the throne."
The game's creator, Jordan Mechner, first came to Bruckheimer with the idea for a "Prince of Persia" film in 2004, with the help of screenwriter John August. "We liked the idea and started developing it. Jordan wrote the first couple drafts, and we kept embellishing," Bruckheimer recalled. "Jordan gave us a great blueprint, great stuff, and we just kept layering more and more."
For Mechner, the first problem facing the person adapting a game for film was easy to identify. "I think the big challenge in video game adaptations in general, is, the first thing that's lost is the gameplay; which is usually the reason the game was successful in the first place," he explained. "It's got to be a movie that can stand on its own, even if there never were a video game." A key aspect of "PoP," for example, is the Dagger of Time itself. "The idea of the dagger that can turn back time was really key to the 2003 game, and that's something we carried over to the movie," said the creator.
The film will not present a one for one translation of the game, a fact that is immediately noticeable in the names of the characters. For starters, the Prince actually has a name, Dastan, and Princess Farah has been changed to Tamina. "The story is different, and that was true from the first draft of the script," Mechner said. "And changing the names of the characters, I sort of meant that as a signal to gamers not to expect it to be a literal retelling of the story of the game."
That said, the film will definitely feature scenes that echo its platforming origins. "It was a game that was inspired by movies, especially those great old Hollywood swashbuckling movies with Errol Flynn [or] Douglas Fairbanks, and 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' which came out when I was in high school," the creator explained. "It was a big inspiration. I think that kind of [game] action just translates really well to cinema."
Though the project has the franchise potential, Bruckheimer is keeping the same mindset he had during the making of the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" film. "We made just the one picture. We had no idea it was going to be the success that it turned out to be," he recalled. "Same thing with this; we have no idea if it's going to be a hit, so we just hope that this movie is going to come out and the audience will embrace it and go see it, and enjoy it." If it does work, the producer said, "We'll take what's in this movie and embellish into something." The same process was used on the "Pirates" series.
Franchise potential means the possibility of a Disney park ride. A prospect Mechner called, "pretty mindboggling." He went on to explain, "I grew up on the east coast, so when I was six, Disneyland was like Shangri-La. It was this far away thing that, if I was lucky, I might get to visit once in my life." He also mentioned plans afoot for LEGO sets based on the film.
Mechner was asked if his brother, the original model for the Prince in the 1989 game, was involved in the film. "He wasn't a very good athlete even then, and he hasn't really gotten any better, so no. He was disappointed, but no."
"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is currently scheduled for release on May 28th, 2010.